MacArthur Fellows Program

Ubaldo Vitali

Conservator and Silversmith | Class of 2011

Drawing on deep knowledge of past and modern metalworking techniques and rigorous scholarship to restore historical masterworks and to create original works of art.

Title
Conservator and Silversmith
Affiliation
Ubaldo Vitali, Inc.
Location
Maplewood, New Jersey
Age
67 at time of award

Ubaldo Vitali is a fourth-generation silversmith, conservator, and scholar who draws upon a deep knowledge of past and modern metalworking techniques to restore historical masterworks in silver and to create original works of art. Trained in the workshops of his father and grandfather, Vitali works entirely by hand, from the mixing of raw materials and chemical analyses to building custom-made tools, wooden models, and wax molds. As a conservator of works from medieval Europe to colonial America, he restores the aesthetic integrity of pieces distorted by damage or age. Based on his examination of written archival sources and material objects, he also preserves the physical and metallurgical evidence related to a piece's fabrication, thereby illuminating the original artisan's process and the social and intellectual underpinnings of his design. Vitali provides further insight into the design principles and execution processes of specific historic periods by creating replicas of antique objects. For example, his replication of a bronze lion aquamanile, using only those raw materials and methods available to the medieval metalworker, has shed light on the dissemination and evolution of speculative alchemy from the writings of Islamic philosophers to medieval European workshops. In his original designs of commissioned presentation pieces, tureens, centerpieces, and such whimsical works as a domino set and a soda bottle made entirely of silver, Vitali explores the physical limits of his chosen material and how the interplay of light and reflections on the polished silver creates multiple layers of texture and detail. Through the beauty of his craftsmanship and rigorous approach to restoration, Vitali is playing a vital role in preserving historical collections and reinvigorating classic silversmithing with a twenty-first-century idiom.

Ubaldo Vitali studied at the Liceo Artistico Ripetta, the Università de Roma, and the Accademia di Belle Arti, in Rome, Italy, before moving to the United States in 1967 and founding his own workshop. His work has appeared in exhibitions at the Newark Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Yale University Art Gallery, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

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Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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